Let’s face it – no one likes to take a test. It’s normal to feel a little jittery when we know we are being “judged” in some way. And, no matter how nicely we try to package it, our kids understand that the assessment they are about to take is, in fact, meant to judge them. Maybe it will show that they aren’t as “smart” as their peers or that they aren’t ready to go on to the next grade or that they have to go to a special class or that they just didn’t prepare well enough. No wonder they get stressed out!
Here are some tips to help you help them:
1. Help them learn to relax. When we feel stress, we experience a physical response. Our muscles tighten and our breathing becomes shallow. Luckily, we can “undo” the stress by working with the body. Breathing exercises are a quick, easy, and portable method of accomplishing just that. Check out this worksheet aimed at teaching our child to identify and deal with stress. Teach your child the simple breathing technique at home first when they are not particularly stressed. Then, help them practice it during small stresses – say, waiting at the dentist’s office or before meeting a new person. Remind them to use the exercise any time they feel stressed – especially before a test.
2. Replace negative self-talk. What we think has an enormous impact on how we feel and how we perform. Messages like “I never do any good on tests” or “It will be awful if I don’t do well on this” will dramatically increase the amount of anxiety felt. Replacing these thoughts with realistic positive messages like “I’ve studied hard and am ready to do my best” can calm your child and help him succeed. Talk to your child to help them uncover destructive negative messages and help them come up with helpful positive statements instead.
3. Focus on preparation not performance. Kids do better when they are prepared. So let’s concentrate on that rather than on the grade. Help your child develop solid study skills by establishing a specific time and place for studying. Make sure that they are regularly completing homework assignments. Simplify your morning routine so that they get to school on time, unrushed well rested and well fed every day. Praise their efforts on a daily basis focusing on the little successes rather than waiting for the big test grade. In other words, help them build a solid foundation in order to take the pressure off on test day.
4. Do something fun. It’s the night before the big test. This is not the time for drilling or quizzing or lecturing about the importance of this assessment for their future. At this point all the preparation should be done. So help them relax by doing something fun – have a family game night or watch a movie. Distract them from the anxious thoughts that can lead to a sleepless night.
5. Keep your own expectations in check. Well-intentioned parents can pack on some serious stress. Make sure that your words or actions don’t send any of the following messages to your child: “If you don’t do well it will be awful” or “I am counting on you to perform well” or “I will be disappointed/embarrassed/angry if you fail.” Don’t let your child think that you measure his worth by his performance.
Watching a child struggle with assessment anxiety can be really tough for parents. Remember that there are ways you can help. Use these strategies to help your child become calm, resilient, and self-confident.
Shellee Harrington, RN, MS, NCC – Shellee is a Certified Mental Health Counselor and Registered Nurse practicing in Tallahassee, Florida. She is dedicated to helping families and children manage the challenges of life and blogs at harringtoncreativecounseling.com where she provides a wide variety of resources for parents. Check out her series titled Helping Kids Cope for more great tips and techniques.